Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Ludogorets Razgrad, Champions League Group Matchday 3

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, October 19
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials from Portugal
    • Referee: Artur Dias
    • Assistants: Rui Tavares and Paulo Soares
    • 4th Official: Nuno Pereira
    • Additional Assistants: Tiago Martins and João Pinheiro
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-L-L // D-W
  • Ludogorets's European Form: D-W-W-D-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 54 °F / 16 °C
I'd make a joke along the lines of "who is this and what has
he done with Theo Walcott," but he's still doing that
same celebration where he pretends he's an airplane.
Well played, Clone Theo...
The optimist will tell you that Arsenal have won six straight and eight of their last nine. The pessimist will tell you it's becoming too close for comfort.

On a weekend where Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur all dropped points, Arsenal's uncomfortable 3-2 victory over Swansea City, their traditional bogey team, was a critical result. Once again, we're talking about a match in which this year's Arsenal team bagged all three points where previous incarnations might have faltered.

The Gunners have a rather favorable run-in before November 6th's North London derby leads us into the next international break. Their league games are against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. There's a League Cup tie next week, at home, against Reading. And there are two Champions League group matches against Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad.

Being at home tonight, this fixture is the easier of the two. Traveling to Bulgaria five days before the derby in a couple of weeks is going to be much trickier. With that said, Arsenal have to keep winning the games they should win in Europe; they've got the advantage over PSG for top of the group right now, but they have to keep grinding out results.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (hamstring,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Giroud (toe,) Jenkinson (knee)

Olivier Giroud jokingly called out Conor McGregor in an
Arsenal video, which might explain why he disappeared.
Granit Xhaka's red card against Swansea means he'll be suspended in domestic fixtures, but he remains available in Europe. If Francis Coquelin needed a rest, this would be the ideal circumstance to give him one, but he's fresh back from injury himself and could probably use the run-out to get back to game speed before being required in league fixtures. For that reason, I could see Coquelin starting this match anyway, even with Xhaka technically available.

David Ospina will take the reins in goal as he has performed well in both Champions League matches thus far. Otherwise, it's as-you-were with the rest of the line-up. I'm unsure if we'll ever see Olivier Giroud or his beard again. He seems to have fallen into a black hole (that's trou noir in French.)

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Ludogorets Squad News

Out: None

This does not look like a sturdy table.
Word is that the visiting Bulgarian side have no injury concerns coming into this match, which is good news for me because I have a feeling it would have been very difficult to find that news if it did exist.

It would have also required me to learn Bulgarian, which alphabetically seems the same as Russian, except Ъ is a pronounced vowel as opposed to the unpronounced hard sign. Bulgarian doesn't have Ы either. Of course, Bulgarian is a South Slavic language and Russian is an East Slavic language, so they're different in a lot of other ways, but I don't actually know Russian, so I guess this is as far as I'm gonna go with this.

Лудогорец have played the same XI on matchdays one and two, so with no injuries in the squad, I wouldn't expect that to change now.

Left back Natanael is one yellow card away from incurring an accumulation ban, which is relevant for Arsenal since these sides will meet again on matchday four in Bulgaria.

Predicted XI: Stoyanov, Minev, Moţi, Palomino, Natanael, Dyakov, Lucas Sasha, Wanderson, Misidjan, Marcelinho, Cafú.

Current Form

Ludogorets scored first against PSG on matchday two.
Apparently, this guy's also an airplane.
As mentioned in the intro, Arsenal's run of form, on paper, has been nothing short of sparkling: six straight wins in all competitions, six straight wins in the league, and eight wins from nine overall. They've lost just once all season, on the opening weekend to Liverpool. Combine that with an unbeaten run of nine to end last season and things have been pretty good (or at least decent) in Goonerland. Of course, if you want to nitpick, you can start pointing to some warning signs and the fact that continuing to win games in the manner they have been is unsustainable in the long term. But people who do that are generally just curmudgeons.

Ludogorets have been playing since the second qualifying round in the Champions League this season, so their matchday two loss to PSG was their only defeat thus far in a European campaign that has already seen eight matches. Their August 13th loss to Levski Sofia in the league is their only other defeat of the season as well. That said, Levski are still unbeaten, meaning Ludogorets, who have won five straight Bulgarian league titles, are two points back of first place in the league with a game in hand. They have also advanced to the second round of the Bulgarian Cup, where they will play Montana.

And that's how I learned that Montana is a city in Bulgaria with a population of nearly 90,000.

Match Facts

Dani Abalo also celebrates like an... oh, this is just a regular
airplane. Sorry.
This is the first competitive meeting between Arsenal and Ludogorets Razgrad. In fact, this is the first time Arsenal will ever face a Bulgarian opponent.

Ludogorets have twice before faced an English opponent, as they were in Liverpool's Champions League group two years ago. Liverpool squeaked by at Anfield, 2-1, on matchday one. Mario Balotelli finally gave the Reds an opening goal on 82 minutes, but Dani Abalo equalized for the Bulgarians in the 91st, only to then concede a penalty, which Steven Gerrard converted in the 93rd minute.

In Sofia on matchday five, Dani Abalo scored in the third minute to give the hosts an early lead, but Rickie Lambert (remember him?) equalized for Liverpool five minutes later and Jordan Henderson gave the English side a 2-1 lead in the 37th. Ludogorets found an 88th minute equalizer through defender Georgi Terziev and the match ended 2-2. Liverpool went on to draw Basel at home in matchday six, thus clinching their failure to qualify for the knockout phase.

The Referee

Talk to the hand.
The match officials are from Portugal; the referee is Artur Dias. This will be his sixth UEFA Champions League tie; it's the first time he'll be working a match for either of these clubs.

He has worked a number of Europa League ties, in which English clubs do not have a good record. For example, Dias was in the middle for Manchester United's 2-1 loss at Midtjylland back in February. He worked a 1-1 draw between Spurs and Monaco in last year's Europa League group stage (not to be confused with Spurs's loss to Monaco in this year's Champions League group stage,) as well as West Ham's Europa League playoff 1-1 draw with Astra Giurgiu in Romania. West Ham went on to lose the tie in the second leg at home.

Dias has served as an additional assistant referee in the Champions League in past years, working with referee Olegário Benquerença. In 2015, Dias worked in the Under-20 World Cup, in which he took charge of a quarterfinal between the United States and Serbia. In 2013, he worked the final of the UEFA Regions' Cup, a UEFA-sanctioned amateur competition I didn't know existed but seems fascinating.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Bayer Leverkusen 0 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Tuesday: CSKA Moscow 1 - 1 Monaco
  • Tuesday: Real Madrid 5 - 1 Legia Warsaw
  • Tuesday: Sporting CP 1 - 2 Borussia Dortmund
  • Tuesday: Club Brugge 1 - 2 Porto
  • Tuesday: Leicester City 1 - 0 Copenhagen
  • Tuesday: Dinamo Zagreb 0 - 1 Sevilla
  • Tuesday: Lyon 0 - 1 Juventus
  • Wednesday: Paris Saint-Germain v. Basel; Parc des Princes, Paris
  • Wednesday: Dynamo Kyiv v. Benfica; Olympic Stadium, Kiev
  • Wednesday: Napoli v. Beşiktaş; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. Manchester City; Camp Nou, Barcelona
  • Wednesday: Celtic v. Borussia Mönchengladbach; Celtic Park, Glasgow
  • Wednesday: Bayern Munich v. PSV Eindhoven; Allianz Arena, Munich
  • Wednesday: Rostov v. Atlético Madrid; Olimp-2, Rostov-on-Don
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and expert in reading Cyrllic characters without actually knowing what the words mean. You can follow him on Twitter @зоррокат.